Three Fridays into 2018, Baltimore rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA released what ended up being the best hip-hop album released for the next twelve months. However, calling this project a “hip-hop” album is perhaps a bit reductive. The experimental soundplay on this record is combined with sharp, sometimes catchy lyricism. The tracks on this album are nothing like the music on any other albums on this list. Peggy’s feral performance-style on the mic coupled with consistently intelligent new choices behind the production boards make for an invigorating experience. Some songs sound like they were recorded in an enormous cavern, while others as though shouted from under a sheet on a twin mattress. JPEGMAFIA is undoubtedly the prime artist to watch coming into the next year. The only thing that tops this album is experiencing Peggy perform it live:
Fav tracks from Veteran:
2. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
The multi-talented Janelle Monae returned in 2018 with her biggest effort yet. Paired with the best music videos of the year, Monae crafted some of the best genre-bending music of this decade. Catchy enough to get any party started, yet with enough depth for repeated lonely headphone listens, Janelle Monae has truly mastered her craft. Sexy, feminine, challenging, Dirty Computer questions the world we live in by crafting its own. The blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, and more help to create a modern album that sounds like it could have been created any time between 1978 and 2048. The fandroids have true reason to rejoice this year.
I Got the Juice
3. ASTROWORLD – Travi$ Scott
The wait for ASTROWORLD took so long it became a meme. Announced shortly after Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, ASTROWORLD spent the next two years figuring itself out. When it did finally drop this past October, it was chock full of hits. Sicko Mode hit number 1 recently and has bounced around the top 10 since its release, and for good reason. The forward thinking production on these tracks mesh perfectly with the vocal orchestrations that Travi$ and company bring. Packed to the brim with memorable moments and repeatable tracks, ASTROWORLD brings the amusement park experience it advertises to life.
4. Ta13oo – Denzel Curry
The long underrated Denzel has finally gotten some recognition through this excellent effort, packed full of varied, finely crafted tunes. Denzel has spent the last 5 years maturing and changing his sound, and Ta13oo is the culmination and sharpening of those styles into one, cohesive project. With a general conceptual feel going from light to dark, the songwriting on this album is sharper than its ever been. Denzel has always been able to flow quickly with complicated rhyme schemes, but the ability to string those into coherent verses with catchy hooks in between is something Denzel has recently mastered. Denzel’s best crop of material shows up here, and makes for a compelling listen through its 13 tracks
The Blackest Balloons
5. FM! –Vince Staples
Our pick for the best project under 30 minutes this year, of which there were many quality choices, Vince Staples’ surprise, radio-inspired project FM!, sweeps the competition. Every single track on this album that actually pans out into a track is impeccably crafted, with guests from HOT 97, as well as California natives E-40, Kamaiyah, and YG providing great contributions to the short record. Vince Staples’ lyrics are as hard hitting as they have ever been, with his flows catchier than ever. Kenny Beats once again kills it on the production all over this thing, showing that his versatility is unmatched as far as rap production in 2018. Vince proves that he is a talent to watch at all times, with every project.
Don’t Get Chipped
6. DiCaprio II – J.I.D
The Freshman out of Atlanta showed a lot of promise with 2017’s The Never Story, and delivered a project advertised as an album but with something of a mixtape feel this year. This project is filled to the brim with flows ridiculous in both speed and dexterity, not to mention the forward thinking yet trendy production. J.I.D’s high pitched nasal voice and tendency for complicated lyricism haVer earned him his fair share of Kendrick Lamar comparisons, but the Georgian is proving that he is just as talented yet in is his own lane.
7. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi have teamed up once again in the most official capacity so far with their own group name and debut album. This 7-track project feels like an odyssey with the many different places it goes. There are the rock inspired instrumentals making for an awesome backdrop to Kid Cudi’s triumphant vocals; or the classic Kanye sample chops played under creatively raunchy new school Kanye lyrics. The guests on this record play an integral role in creating its unique sound, whether they lend vocals, or are sampled for their instrumentals. Kids See Ghosts is without a doubt one of the most creative projects of the year, if not the decade.
Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)
8. Daytona – Pusha T
A player in one of the biggest and most publicized beefs of the year, King Push delivered one of 2018’s most solid projects. Full of drug references too clever for the average dealer, a fully Kanye produced set of instrumentals perfect for the Virginia native’s distinct flows, and kept at a length both short and sweet, this project pulls no punches. This is quality hip-hop from two veterans in the game who are at their best in years.
If You Know You Know
The Games We Play
9. Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything from the California recluse Earl Sweatshirt. His spiral into darkness and depression has only seemed to deepen. The samples and production on this album often swallow Earl, and overwhelming the listener, create an oppressive, if short experience. The lyrics and atmosphere of this album are fantastic, but worrisome. The jazzy, off-kilter production that Earl always favored is present with even more jagged edges. Earl’s lyrical ability and flow is just as sharp as ever, and the touching tributes to his parents are an effective juxtaposition on this tracklist. Hopefully Earl continues to create and perhaps even finds some happiness to draw from.
10. Whack World – Tierra Whack
An eccentric but essential entry into 2018, Tierra Whack offers a 15-track album, each track exactly 60 seconds long. Each idea presented is fresh and interesting, containing heart-wrenching R&B, thought-provoking lyrical rap, and more experimental stylings that separate the Philadelphia native from her contemporaries. In addition to the excellent sonic presentation of the project, the whole album has been put to video, with Whack herself featured in some of the best music visuals of the year.
11. Tha Carter 5 – Lil Wayne
Half a decade in the making, this project had quite the tumultuous production process. As a result of these many years, the album features 23 tracks (26 with bonus tracks) apparently recorded at various points throughout that period. The features on this track elevate the record to a nearly timeless level: a posthumous XXXTentacion, a Kendrick likely circa TPAB, a Rodeo/Birds Travi$, and an Ashanti/Mack Maine track that sounds like it could have come out in 2001. Lil Wayne has presented a lot of material here, and it’s nearly all great, with his lyrics as sharp and ridiculous as ever, and an ear for production that has helped him remain relevant this long in the game.
12. Paraffin – Armand Hammer
Likely one of the most underrated duos and projects in the game this year, Armand Hammer come together with an excellent commentary on the society that envelops it. Producer ELUCID and rapper Billy Woods have a great chemistry and deliver an enthralling listen. The pummeling lyrics from Woods are worthy of analysis and the head-spinning beats are worthy of an instrumental album in their own right. This is a must-listen for any fan of the golden age of hip-hop who still believes in the culture.
Alternate Side Parking
If He Holla
13. Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B
Perhaps one of the most surprising developments of 2018, Cardi B actually managed to release an incredibly solid project, despite her lightning in a bottle breakthrough with Bodak Yellow. The industry-backed monster of a record produced 5 platinum hits (15x platinum in total) and even had some deep hip-hop references for those a little more well-versed in the genre. Satisfying for the general public, with something for real hip-hop heads, this was a surprisingly solid industry product from the very-disputed queen of hip-hop.
Get Up 10
14. Ye – Kanye West
Regardless of Kanye’s public behavior over the last 8 months, he’s released some of his greatest material this year. Much of it was not on his own album, but with Ye we have a bona fide Kanye West album. Despite its short length–7 tracks and just over 20 minutes–the experience is cohesive and endlessly repeatable. Kanye’s personal lyrics and raw performance make for an almost harrowing experience at times. As usual, the many guests that Kanye enlists for the album add essential parts to the record, with breakthrough talent 070 Shake stealing much of the spotlight toward the back end of the project. The somewhat thrown-together feel of the whole thing works for Ye and aids the portrayal of a Kanye at his lowest.
15. Ephorize/Eden – CupcakKe
One of the most talented and underrated newcomers, CupcakKe may have carved her name out with her hyper sexual lyrics, but her versatility is well-displayed on both of these records. Bars galore from the young rapper, in addition to several heartfelt ballads that come across well. CupcakKe’s personality is eccentric enough to have already earned her an enormously dedicated fan base, but her sheer talent will surely garner her life-long Stans throughout her hopefully long career.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch
16. Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2 – Black Thought
One of the great lyricists of all time is back with a double dose, the first synthesized entirely by 9th Wonder, the next by Salaam Remi. Rather than choosing between the two projects, listening to both of them is the ideal way to experience Black Thought this year. The boom bap beats create the perfect simplistic backdrop to Thought’s incredible lyrics and flows, still second to none after all these years.
How to Hold a Choppa
17. Nasty – Rico Nasty
Rico’s incredibly bad attitude and, well, nasty delivery has earned her a special place in hip-hop. She’s been carving out a name for herself the past couple years, and finally created enough buzz to sign to Atlantic Records this year and release this tape. The best part of the album besides Rico herself is easily the production from the undisputed MVP of 2018, Kenny Beats. The instrumentals on this album fit Rico Nasty’s eccentric delivery, and makes for one of the best pairings in hip-hop this year.
Bitch I’m Nasty
18. Black Panther Soundtrack
The closest thing we got this year to a Kendrick Lamar album, the names papering the track list earn their hype. There are certified hits on this project, groomed for mass audiences, with enough artistic merit found to satisfy the hip-hop purists in the world. The array of talent on this project is vast, and even helped introduce the world to SOB x RBE, a Northern California quartet that has been buzzing ever since this release. Meme worthy and replay worthy, this intensely corporate effort actually manages to provide some solid art in the process of promoting one of the year’s biggest films.
19. The Prerequisite – Ill Conscious
A local Stay Up favorite, Ill Conscious has been holding it down in Baltimore for years. The Prerequisite sees Ill team up with other essential Baltimoreans, Guy Grams, Jay Royale, as well as several Spanish features. The non-stop complex flows hide their lyrical gems so well, that multiple listens are required for the full experience of the short listen. The tracks vary plenty in sound, but strike a similar vibe that many may believe are missing in the current hip-hop landscape. A definite must-listen for any hip-hop head.
20. Oxnard – Anderson .Paak
The multi-talented Californian is back with a full-length solo effort jam-packed with catchy tunes. .Paak’s voice guides the listener through the southern California vibes informing this tracklist. Anderson .Paak’s strongest suit is his incredible charisma, present in spades all over Oxnard. The guests on this record are also essential, from Dr. Dre to Kendrick Lamar. The polished sound that Anderson .Paak has created is welcome warmth in these cold times.
21. East Atlanta Love Letter – 6lack
Pronounced “Black,” this singer/rapper emerged this year with a new look, yet familiar sound, only now more refined and industry ready. 6lack’s lack of vocal dynamics is made up for with catchy songwriting and insightful lyrics. In fact, his somewhat limited range renders the songs even more singable. If this album does not get you in your feelings, then you might not have feelings.
Let Her Go
22. I Want to Die in New Orleans – $uicideboy$
The BOY$ are finally here with something they have actually dubbed an album. Having been around for about 5 years now, with hundreds of songs under their belt, Ruby and $crim decided that it was time for a real crop of songs. The coherency of the album leaves a little to be desired, but $UICIDEBOY$ signature sound has been boiled down to its most essential and enrapturing parts. Speedy flows, Memphis-inspired production, and dark as your soul lyrics help bring the BOY$’ aesthetic to peak visibility.
War Time All the Time
23. Die Lit – Playboi Carti
Likely one of the worst rappers in the game lyrically released one of the better experiences in hip-hop this year. The repetitive nature of Playboi Carti’s refrains, as well as his seemingly endless layers of vocal adlibs, make for a wonderfully textured, almost psychedelic experience. The production on this album is consistently intoxicating, and never fails to turn up a concert crowd. Carti has refined his admittedly narrow sound into something unique and almost inevitable in the simplistic trap wave hip-hop currently finds itself in.
24. Year of the Snitch – DeathGrips
One of the least hip-hop albums from a group that has been experimenting and pushing their sound to different places for nearly a decade. The trio forms this time to create a noisy, cryptic, kraut rock-inspired project that challenges its listeners from start to finish. DeathGrips have never been strangers to confounding their audience, but their DeathGrips is Online campaign, combined with the roll out and eventual release of this album, proved to be yet another installation in the band’s eccentricity. The actual music on the album is great by itself, with driving, pummeling tracks followed by alien-sounding psychological introspections, all hidden beneath a thick layer of DeathGripsian mystery.
25. Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle
An early contender for album of the year managed to stay great despite heavy competition. Nipsey Hussle’s trademark recognizable flows are laced all throughout the album, with his gangster lifestyle lyrics as vivid as ever. Nipsey also manages to inspire with some of his lyrics and stories, really relating himself to his audience in a way few rappers of his stature are able.
Last Time That I Checc’d
Hussle & Motivate
26. Everything’s Fine – Kwelle Chris & Jean Grae
Perhaps one of the most interesting pairings this year, these two emcees are wildly different from each other stylistically, yet somehow their partnership seems almost inevitable. The two brought together eccentric lyrical prowess to create some unique hip-hop experiences hard to find outside of this project.
My Contribution to this Scam
Scoop of Dirt
27. Room 25 – Noname
The Chicago rapper’s follow up to the wonderful Telephone brings similar vibes, with jazzy production and laid back vocal deliveries peppered throughout the project. Noname’s lyrics and voice help lull the listener into the warm, pillowy experience that Room 25 provides. Whether the album was made for financial reasons is clearly irrelevant as far as the quality goes.
28. Orpheus vs. the Sirens – The Hermit and the Recluse
Rapper Ka and producer Animoss team up for a concept album about the Greek mythical figure Orpheus, whose music soothed all who heard. Ka’s incredibly subdued delivery smoothly maneuvers over Animoss’s inspired production. The samples also serve to insert us into our setting, with Ka’s lyrical references shaping the world into a real place. The short listen feels deeper than expected, with rewards available to those faithful enough for multiple listens.
29. Iridescence – BROCKHAMPTON
The boys are back after a rough separation from one of their foremost members Ameer Vann, following his sexual assault allegations. The group postponed a large tour, and took a lot of time off to reassess the material they had created for their upcoming project. From PUPPY to Team Effort, and likely even more behind the scenes, the album underwent many changes and revamps before coming to the conclusion that is Iridescence. The fire the group originally presented last year has not been snuffed out, but tamed. The many members bring some great performances and the songwriting remains sharp. While not nearly as prolific and explosive in 2018 as 2017, and for good reason, the Brockhampton boys are showing they’ve still got plenty to say.
Where the Cash At
30. Weather or Not – Evidence
California rapper Evidence creates a fantastic sense of place with this album, with the whole record feeling like a rainy day in Venice. Evidence’s even, mid-tempo flows help to envelop the listener, as well as the excellent choice of production, heavily featuring the blessed hands of The Alchemist, since others don’t inspire him.
Weather or Not
Love Is a Funny Thing
31. Swimming – Mac Miller
When Mac Miller passed away this year, it left an unfillable void in the hip-hop landscape. Though he was so young when his life was cut tragically short, we luckily have a decade of material to look back on and appreciate his incredible musical journey. Swimming marks the unfortunate final transformation for Miller, but a worthy one. The sophisticated instrumentation helps provide a beautiful backdrop to his voice, often heard singing, sounding the best that he ever had in that capacity. It is incredibly unfortunate that we will not be able to see where Mac would have gone next, but his influence is obvious, and will live on in the styles of young rappers for many years to come. Rest in peace.
What’s the Use?
32. Care for Me – Saba
Chicago’s Saba may have been introduced to many as one of the features on Chance the Rapper’s breakout mixtapes, but he has certainly carved out his own lane in 2018. Released on his own label, Care For Me sees Saba come into his own, telling the story of his childhood and city in a way that seems unique to him. It’s nearly impossible to avoid being drawn into the kitchens and living rooms that make up Saba’s memories. A vivid experience from front to back, Care for Me is a jazzy must-listen.
33. Beware the Book of Eli/Stokeley – Ski Mask the Slump God
Deciding between the two projects Broward County Native Ski Mask the Slump God released this year may be easy for him, since he has been quoted as hating Beware the Book of Eli. However, much of Ski Mask’s best material is spread across these two projects. Stokeley, released late this year, is certainly more groomed from an industry standpoint, though often to its detriment. However, Ski Mask’s incredible, unique take on hip-hop is impossible to find elsewhere.
Coolest Monkey in the Jungle
34. K.T.S.E. – Teyana Taylor
Surely one of the sexiest projects of the year, even the cover oozes the sexuality that the rest of the album delivers in spades. From songs about three-ways to general sexy talk, Teyana Taylor’s was a significant addition to this spring’s spate of short project releases from G.O.O.D. Music. Kanye West’s production shows up all over this album, as inspired as ever and helps provide a luscious background to Teyana’s endearingly somewhat-amateurish vocals.
Rose in Harlem
35. A Love Letter to You 3 – Trippie Redd
Trippie Redd is arguably the current frontrunner in the auto-crooning scene, and has finally come into his own on this project. The album mostly features Trippie crafting catchy melodies around heavenly trap beats. The Ohio-native’s lyrics leave very much to be desired, but the songwriting on the project is much too catchy and clever to ignore.
I Tried Loving
36. KOD – J. Cole
The trebly significantly titled KOD (King OverDosed, Kids On Drugs, Kill Our Demons) is another release that J. Cole fans were quick to eat up and praise. The somewhat-conceptual listen explores current hip-hop culture, specifically the glorification of drugs and money. Slipping in and out of various characters, including the only “features” of the album, a pitched-down J. Cole dubbed “kiLL edward” (a reference to his step-father, a frequent muse for Cole), KOD makes for a dynamic listen, despite the sole performer.
1985 (The Intro to “The Fall Off”)
37. Nasir – Nas
Nas is back with a valiant effort. One of the handful of 7-9 track 20-30 minute experiences released in the spring of this year, some of Nas’ best material to date shows up here. Inspired sampling and continued lyrical prowess help craft the short experience into another essential Nas album.
Not for Radio
Cops Shot the Kid
38. Metalface Meets Czarface – Czarface/MF DOOM
If the names of the artists involved intrigue you, this is a must-listen. Czarface and DOOM are a perfect match for each other, especially since DOOM seems to have inspired the group’s entire aesthetic, even prior to joining up with them. Endless bars and quotables litter the tracklist, making for a fun experience for classic hip-hop heads front to back.
39. Drogas Wave – Lupe Fiasco
This lengthy journey of a project takes its listener to many places, including underwater to a mythical land where a sunken slave ship spared its passengers. A pair of beautiful tear-jerker tracks imagine two victims of senseless gun violence’s lives had they not been tragically cut short at such a young age. The album’s somewhat unfocused nature and slightly bloated tracklist do little to take away the impact of Lupe’s lyrics.
40. Punken – Maxo Kream
The Houston native showed that the city’s short run as the capital of hip-hop in the mid-2000s produced its fair share of young rappers influenced by the era, with a new school mentality injected into their production and style. Maxo’s husky voice and measured flows make for an alluring listen. One of the highlights of the year is housed on Roaches, where Maxo raps about his experience being away from his family as they were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
47. City Morgue Vol. 1: HELL OR HIGHWATER – City Morgue
48. Head in the Clouds – 88 Rising
49. Day 69/Dummy Boy – 6ix9ine
50. Vacation to Hell – Flatbush Zombies
Bonus Non-Hip-Hop Honorable Mentions:
A very special honorable mention to SOPHIE, whose album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is one of the best statements of electronic music this year. Despite not necessarily being hip-hop enough to be ranked on this list, her efforts are well worth a listen.
And another honorable mention to Igloo Ghost, whose dual EP Clear Tamei/Steel Mogu is another fantastic addition to one of the most creative electronic producers’ repertoires.